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A Personal Account of Clacton by Neil Hilton Back

Butlins Holiday Camp Clacton was a firm favourite with those from London and the South East. It's proximity to the capital and this endless stream of potential clients made this camp a huge success in its heyday. The camp was also successful in attracting the aspiring artists performing on the stage in London and this was the training ground for many well known celebrities of today.

I would like to thank Debbie Tebbutt, a former Redcoat at Clacton for helping with this article and her acquaintances for also providing input and relaying personal experiences of their days at the Clacton camp. These included Josh Tuifua, Linda Todd and Stuart White.

Clacton was really known as Clacton-on-Sea and the town had already become popular with holidaymakers before the arrival of Butlins. The resort had a prominent pier and a large fairground. The arrival of Butlins only added to the town's fortunes. In competition with nearby Southend, this Essex  resort proved to be a good choice by Sir Billy Butlin for one of his best liked holiday camps.

Situated South of the resort on the road out to Jaywick Sands, Clacton was also built on an area of flat coastal land right next to the sea shore and the construction had to account for the risks of flooding and subsidence. Some of the buildings here were ex-military structures which were completely refurbished to allow for the new recreational use. As more land was acquired the camp was extended. New buildings and accommodation were added and the camp became established as a medium sized centre with most of the regular Butlins attractions. Clacton did not have a chairlift or monorail but it did have other funfair rides including a miniature railway. At the back of the camp there was a large boating lake and the miniature railway formed a circular route around the lake. The central area of the camp comprised tennis courts and a large lawned area.

The main entrance was accessed via the main road and the outdoor pool, South Seas Building and Reception Building could be seen from the road at this point. The red neon light signage `Butlins Clacton Holiday Camp' appeared across the front of the Reception Building. The amusement park was located to the left as you came through the entrance gate. The amusement park included rides such as the carousel, Peter Pan train ride, kiddies roundabouts e.g. ladybird ride and Jeep Safari. Fairground duties and Crazy Golf could be quite tedious and some of the Redcoats were not too fond of this particular aspect of their job, a fact that happy holidaymakers were blissfully unaware of.  

Clacton was known for its large L shaped outdoor swimming pool and this was in regular use during the warmer summer months of the holiday season. This feature of Clacton always appeared in the Butlins holiday brochures. There was also a large indoor heated swimming pool with an underwater viewing area in the South Seas Bar and an open air roller skating rink. Campers were also expected to partake in the various competitions and events which formed part of the varied entertainment programme.

There were fewer entertainment buildings here but those which were constructed were all two storey, very large and spacious. The bars and venues were elaborately furnished and the shows performed here were top class. Some of the entertainment venues included the Gaiety Theatre, Crazy Horse Saloon, Viennese Ballroom and Bar, Blinking Owl Bar, Regency Ballroom and Bar and the South Seas Bar (similar to the Beachcomber). Regular feature films would be screened in the Gaiety Theatre which had a distinctive frontage. The stage at Butlins could be compared with many West End venues and at Clacton there were distinctive huge statues of knights on horses next to the stage. Variety shows and plays involved the use of professional props and scenery. Some shows were so popular that the venues quickly became filled with guests and staff would have to erect signs stating `Full House'. In times past it was safe to leave children in the accommodation and many people will remember the child listening service and signs in the venues which read `Baby Crying In Chalet --- Camp, Row ---, Number ---'. Of course by the time you got back to the chalet the child was fast asleep again. Happy days !

Entertainment at Clacton included performances in the Gaiety Theatre, Bingo in the Blinking Owl Bar, shows in the Crazy Horse Saloon and live bands in the Viennese Ballroom. The Redcoats were a fundamental part of the entertainment programme either as hosts or as performing artists themselves. They enjoyed their work and their interaction with guests who in turn would often end their holidays as friends and treat with small gifts the Redcoats who had made their holiday a memorable experience. This recognition made the job a pleasure for all the hard working staff who made the Butlin experience possible.

Accommodation here at Clacton consisted of individual and both single storey and two storey chalet blocks. The chalet camps were identified by colour and some had metal staircases to the upper floors. As the holiday camp was one of the oldest the earlier chalets had become quite dated and were very basic. As newer accommodation was added this was more up-to-date in both appearance and the interior fixtures/furnishings. Accommodation at Butlins was always functional rather than luxurious and this concept was based on value for money holidays and a concentration on entertainment facilities. Anyway, you don't go on holiday to spend most of your time in the accommodation. In addition to the main guest chalets there were separate staff chalets as at all the other camps.

As a result of the decline in the British holiday market in the early 1980's the future of Clacton was called into question. A decision was made by the Rank Group to withdraw from Clacton and concentrate resources on other centres. Following its closure and sale by Butlins the new owners continued to operate it as a holiday centre. It eventually became known as Atlas Park but this new venture was short lived. The site has now been sold and redeveloped as a modern housing estate. It has been said that when Butlins closed Clacton as a resort died. The impact of the Butlins camps and their economic contribution should never be underestimated.

Despite its closure Clacton remains a place where many guests and staff had spent happy times. Good friendships were forged here and the camp holds fine memories for both staff and the guests they used to entertain. Images of some of these experiences can be viewed at the Photographs part of the Clacton section on this website. The site of the Butlins Clacton camp may now have been redeveloped but the memories will always live on in hearts and minds.

I am dedicating this account of the Clacton Camp to all members of staff who served the Butlin family and the Rank Group who were the owners of the Butlins Company until recently. On behalf of the many guests and Butlins enthusiasts I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those staff who worked at Butlins throughout the years for their patience, skills, experience and vital contribution to the successful functioning of all the Butlins Holiday Camps. Be they Chalet Maids, Operational Staff, Catering Staff, Retail Staff, Admin. Staff, Redcoats or Management they each contributed to a great holiday experience for all. Well done !  Equally we wish Bourne Leisure the new owners and all current staff every success for the future with the three remaining family Entertainment Resorts of Bognor Regis, Minehead and Skegness.

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